The art of punctuation – review

June 27, 2008

The art of punctuation by Noah Lukeman (Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-861454-8)

Who is it for? Everyone-teachers and students

What is it about? Lukeman sets out to explain the use of the punctuation marks in English. After the introduction, each chapter is divided into parts: How to use it; Danger of overuse; How to underuse it; Danger of underuse; Context; What your use of the punctuation mark reveals about you; and End of chapter exercises.

While this may sound similar to Lynn Truss’s Eat, shoots and leaves, his approach is quite different and worth a place alongside Truss on your bookshelf (professional and personal).

How can it be used? The beauty of Lukeman’s book is that he (largely) avoids prescriptive rules and settles instead for a much more creative approach. As he states: ‘Punctuation is often discussed … as a way of facilitating what you want to say. Rarely is it pondered as a medium for artistic expression, as a means of impacting on the content (in a way that) it achieves symbiosis with the narration, style, viewpoint, and even the plot itself’. This belief permeates the entire book, making it useful and inspiring for English teachers. The inclusion of exercises is also helpful-and not nearly as old-fashioned as it might sound. Instead, he offers a workshop approach to the improvement of punctuation use in creative writing.

Overall, you may not agree with everything he says (I certainly didn’t), but Lukeman has written a book that many teachers will find enriches their teaching of English.

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